by Bernard K. Means
Today is Thanksgiving in the United States and we certainly have much to be thankful in the Virtual Curation Laboratory. The last few months Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) alumnae Brenna Geraghty has acted as our laboratory manager through a grant from the VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). The purpose of this grant is to increase research opportunities for undergraduate students at VCU. Brenna’s help has been invaluable in ensuring that interns working in the laboratory contribute to this effort. Brenna also has been integral in our partnerships with a number of cultural heritage locations and museums, especially our exhibit development work with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The interns working in the Virtual Curation Laboratory have been busy preparing materials—notably painting 3D printed replicas—that will enhance the research experience of their fellow VCU students. Jessica Evans is developing a teaching kit focused on 18th and 19th century African American material culture, particularly from enslaved contexts at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, James Madison’s Montpelier, and Manassas National Battlefield Park, and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. Brittany Blanchard conducted an oral history of World War II veteran Russell Scott, furthering our relationship with the Virginia War Memorial. Cameron Walker has returned for a second internship in the laboratory, continuing to expand and organize our 3D printed zooarchaeological collection. Luke Davis-Lee, Dakota Hamlet, Elsie Martin, Diana Salazar, Ben Snyder, and Nathalie Warden also have helped with all these initiatives. Anthropology major Charlie Parker even stopped by to end a hand.
This semester we have also been joined by freshman Celeste Fuentes through a new research work study program developed by Herb Hill of VCU’s UROP. Celeste is interested in archaeology and so applied to work in the laboratory. Having a dedicated part-time worker has ensured smooth operations in the Virtual Curation Laboratory, especially as we continue old and develop new relationships not just in Richmond but across the world.
Some of our older partners that have seen continued activity include the American Civil War Museum, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, HNB Garhwal University, the Isle of Wight County Museum, the New York State Museum, The Poe Museum, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, The Valentine, the Virginia Museum of Natural History, and the Virginia War Memorial. The Isle of Wight County Museum just celebrated its 40th anniversary with an exhibit focused on 40 objects. The Virtual Curation Laboratory was included in a section related to the future of the museum through our efforts to 3D scan parts of their collection, including a peanut dated to 1890.
Our new partners include the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia World War I and II commission, the Western Science Center, and the Wilton House Museum. Our work with the Western Science Center in Hemet, California was made possible through the Smithsonian Affiliations which supports a network of museums across the nation. We are working with the Smithsonian Affiliations to help the Las Vegas Natural History Museum to 3D scan and highlight parts of their collections—this project should take place early in the next year.
The newest partner working with the Virtual Curation Laboratory is the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) in Silver Spring, Maryland. We are working with NMHM and Terrie Simons-Earhardt of VCU’s Forensics program to explore ways that we can 3D document and share the historically and medically important materials housed by the museum.
These include skeletal and other human remains showing evidence of battlefield trauma, as well as other specimens exhibiting pathologies, that are largely inaccessible in their collections facility. The latter is on a secure military base and is not publicly accessible—especially to foreign researchers—unlike the exhibits in the NMHM itself. Within the public portion of the NMHM I did take a minute to 3D scan facial reconstructions on exhibit that were used to document combat injuries and in some cases aid surgeons and artists with sculpting facial prostheses. The scans were made through the exhibit case, so are not quite as refined as possible with this technology.
I close with wishing all our old, new, and future partners a Happy Thanksgiving. The Virtual Curation Laboratory would be unable to create research opportunities for VCU undergraduates without their help. These students acting as interns then ensure the success of the Virtual Curation Laboratory as a place of experiential learning for each new class of VCU students.